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Are There Any Benefits to Asking "Weird" Interview Questions?

February 9, 2016

job-interview.jpgRemember the days when we actually had to go to the library, search through a card catalog, and physically retrieve a primary source document or book in order to learn more about a topic? Those days are behind us now. The internet is stock full of information and advice at our fingertips. All we need to do now is reach for our cell phone, ask Siri and question, and she’ll tell us an answer or provide us an article to answer our question. Fantastic, right?

In terms of accessibility, it is fantastic. However, after reading through a recent article from USA Today, providing guidance on how to respond to “weird” questions, I was reminded that you cannot trust everything you read online. Some of the information on the internet is legitimate, but other information marketed as being advice or a best practice is laughable.

In this particular article, various weird or unusual interview questions were posed and then the author provided recommended responses for the job candidate as well as guidance for crafting their own response. For example, one question was “What animal are you most like?” According to the article, a good response is one that links your answer with particular personality traits. For example, you are most like a dog because of your loyalty and willingness to help out at a moment’s notice. Other questions included, “Who is your favorite Disney princess?” and “Describe the color yellow to a blind person.”

What's the point to this advice?

While the article is primarily marketed towards job candidates and offers some insight on how to frame responses, my immediate reaction was, why is there a need to provide this advice? What companies are actually using these weird questions? (Clearly those that are not concerned with potential legal challenges or having a lot of “misses” with hires…)

Interviews are one of the most common selection procedures used by companies. They are cost efficient and can be very predictive of a candidate’s skills and abilities when used correctly. It all comes down to the type of question being asked as well as standardization being used. Structured, behavior-based interviewing allows interviewers to gather specific work-related examples of a candidate’s past behavior by asking structured, job-relevant questions. These types of interviews are over two times more effective at predicting job performance as unstructured interviews.

Within a structured, behavior-based interview, specific questions are asked that measure competencies determined to be important for the target role. This discovery work of important competencies is completed by way of a job analysis. The interview guide adds structure such that interviewers should always ask questions on these relevant competencies. You will want to ask about them as these are the competencies critical for success in the job. Following the guide ensures interviewers are not inclined to ask more “off-the-wall” questions, which will have a side effect of potentially reducing the accuracy of your interview.

All of the interview questions ask about past behavior because we know that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. We want to know how candidates have behaved in similar job situations to get an understanding of how he or she may respond in a future, similar situation. Asking situational questions (e.g., how would you respond in this situation), is not as informative because we want to know about actions they have taken previously and not how they would be inclined to behave. Intentions do not always lead to behaviors.

Aside from gains in being more accurate, using structured interviews can reduce your company’s likelihood of being legally challenged. In a review of federal court cases involving various selection devices, unstructured interviews were the most frequently challenged device. In these cases, the challenge was successful 40% of the time. Meaning, companies lost the case 40% of the time. Additionally, in the few cases in which a structured interview was challenged, the decision was in favor of the company 100% of the time. It behooves companies to follow a structured process.

The Takeaway

So, what can we learn from this? Well, first, don’t trust everything you read on the internet as being accurate and valuable advice. Second, use structured, behavior-based interviews as a way to gain accurate information about candidates in a manner that will keep your hiring process legally defensible.

Interviewer Tips

Alissa Parr, Ph.D. Alissa Parr, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant at PSI. Her areas of expertise include the development, implementation, and evaluation of assessment processes. Alissa has experience managing entry-level through executive level assessment and selection efforts across a number of different industries including government, financial, military, education, healthcare, and manufacturing.